Wednesday, February 4, 2015

For Art's Sake

Gerald Cassidy, Cui Bono? c. 1911, New Mexico Museum of Art

My hiatus has been longer than I anticipated. Part of it is due to some sort of strange reaction to Zocor, an anti-bad-cholesterol medication, and part of it is due to simple weariness at the continued relentlessness of police violence -- as well as other violence at home and around the world, with a particular emphasis on financial violence.

At any rate... had to go to Santa Fe today for R&R at the Museum of Art. Yeah, I know, how saddidy -- a word I learned from a sometimes saddidy negro if there ever was one. He was the eldest son of the prominent civil rights attorney in town (Sacramento). He wanted to be a playwright. We worked with him for a year or two, staged several of his works in progress, and then sent him off to LA to become a... well, I don't know exactly what. He's still making his living by attorney-ing as far as I know (of course the son follows the father into the practice of law, always... well, not me!), every now and then we hear tell he's scripting something. He taught me sadiddy and I will be forever grateful. Heh.

The topic at the museum was one of my favorite old-line Santa Fe artists, Gerald Cassidy, aka Ira Diamond. I didn't know that the talk would be presented by Lois Rudnik, Mabel Dodge Luhan's pre-eminent biographer. So it was a great time, and we all learned something. Oh yes. Including Lois.

The topic was this painting, Cui Bono?, supposedly the only one of Cassidy's the Museum owns.

He gave it to the Museum when it opened in 1917, and it's usually on display somewhere inside, though you may have to scout around to find it. It's quite striking, but in a magazine illustration way -- which isn't a bad thing, not in my estimation, it's just a style that many fine artists adopted to make a living. Cassidy -- real name Ira Diamond -- painted this work in 1911, before NM Statehood -- indeed, apparently even before he moved to Santa Fe and set up his easel with the Santa Fe Artists Colony. Lois said he never painted anything like it before or after. I've seen a lot of his works, and this one is actually more finished than many of his others -- which come across as well-rendered sketches. He tended to work very large scale, and his rendering was always extraordinary and very striking. This painting is almost muted by comparison, except for the face of the Indian, which is sharply rendered and intensely colored compared to the brilliant white of his shroud and the almost misty mutedness of the rest of the painting. It is a corner of Taos Pueblo as it was.

'Cui bono?' indeed. What would statehood bring to the Pueblo peoples? What does the presence of artists colonies bring to New Mexico and do to New Mexico? It's still an open question after all these years, and many Indian artists are intensely aware of the colonization that "art" per se represents in New Mexico. That  gives rise to the whole issue of "traditional" vs "contemporary" art.

And what to make of Cassidy's illustrations? Or are they Art, with a capital A?

What I find so striking about them is that Cassidy really did try to capture the spirit and the authentic look of the place and the people. Many others did as well, but Cassidy's efforts seem more spirited and thus fuller and richer.

Maybe even more authentic.

I think I mentioned in other posts that I used to do art and renderings and illustrations for my own pleasure as well as for theater projects. I have a surprisingly bulging portfolio out in the studio. I really had no idea of the bulk of it.

Last year I did a handful of sketches in pastel and charcoal, the first I've attempted in more than a decade, probably more than 20 years come to think of it. I have some more recent "artistic" photographs that I'm fairly pleased with, but no easel art or drawings until last year's rather paltry efforts. I thought I used to have a fair amount of skill if not talent, but I found out last year I no longer had skill or talent.


Cassidy died in 1934 from the consequences of inhaling toxic fumes and carbon monoxide as he worked on a mural for the Federal Building in Santa Fe.

He remains one of my favorite members of the Santa Fe Artists Colony.

Other Gerald Cassidy works:

El Palacio, November, 1917, opening of the Museum and an extensive article on Gerald Cassidy (pdf)

There's a good deal more on the Google Machine.

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